Apostles, Prophets and Aberrant Doctrine

Pivec, Holly-Apostles, Prophets, Aberrant Doctrine

Article: JAF075 | Author: Holly Pivec

A book review of Understanding the Fivefold Ministry by Matthew D. Green, editor (Charisma House, 2005).

This review first appeared in the Christian Research Journal, volume 30, number 1 (2007). For further information or to subscribe to the Christian Research Journal go to: http://www.equip.org

Advocates of the growing, controversial New Apostolic Reformation (NAR) movement believe that God is raising up modern‐day apostles and prophets to lead the church in the end times. They believe that such apostles and prophets will have great authority, supernatural power, and divine revelation to defeat demonic principalities, convert nations to Christ, and establish God’s kingdom.

A central teaching of the movement, called “fivefold ministry”—based on Ephesians 4:11–13—is that God has given the church five ongoing governmental offices: those of apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers. Two of those offices, apostles and prophets, have been ignored since the first century, according to the movement’s advocates.

This oversight is the subject of Understanding the Fivefold Ministry, edited by Matthew D. Green (an ordained minister with the Assemblies of God denomination and the managing editor of Ministries Today magazine), with a foreword written by Jack W. Hayford (president of the Foursquare Church International and senior editorial adviser to Ministries Today). More than twenty Pentecostal and charismatic leaders contributed chapters to the book, including C. Peter Wagner (former professor of church growth at Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, California, and a leader of NAR, Ted Haggard (former pastor of New Life Church in Colorado Springs, Colorado, and former president of the National Association of Evangelicals), and J. Lee Grady (editor of Charisma magazine).

Written for a lay‐level readership, the book has six sections: one on each of the five offices and a final section with a self‐test to help readers find their place in the fivefold ministry. Its purpose, according to Hayford, is to “contribute something of substance” to a subject that he believes has been treated recklessly, with many “apostles” and “prophets” becoming preoccupied with “power and position.” Hayford says he hopes the book will refocus the movement on the “servant leadership” that Jesus, the giver of the five “gifts of leadership,” modeled (foreword, p. xi‐xiii). The book does stress the importance of humility among apostles and prophets, but it fails to make a solid, biblical case for the basic issue of the continuation of those offices.

The Case for Modern Apostles and Prophets. Few Christians will object to its chapters on evangelists, pastors, and teachers, so this review will focus on the chapters on apostles and prophets. Understanding the Fivefold Ministry presents two main arguments for the continuation of these offices.

First, it claims that Scripture gives no indication that these offices will cease. Second, it claims that there are contemporary Christians who have all the characteristics of the New Testament apostles, which Green lists in the first chapter as humility and servanthood, the equipping of others for effective ministry, a dramatic call from God, unique giftedness, signs and wonders, and sound theology.

Grady finds both arguments compelling. In his chapter “Stuck on Titles?” Grady says that the question, “Are there apostles today?” is “dumb…since the Bible never says the ministry of apostles would vanish before Christ’s return, and there are so many gifted people functioning in this vital role today” (193).

It is odd, however, that Grady would call this question “dumb,” when, before this movement’s rise in the 1980s, almost all Protestants viewed the office of apostles as one that belonged to the first century. Wayne Grudem, for example, argues in his book The Gift of Prophecy in the New Testament and Today (Crossway, 1988) that the purpose for which Jesus called apostles (to found the church, which included writing Scripture) and the criteria for being an apostle (having seen the resurrected Christ and being appointed by Him) limit the office to the first century. He points to Ephesians 2:20 and Revelation 21:14 as support for the role of apostle as foundational. Grudem, however, allows that the word “apostle” may be used today in a lesser sense, to refer to missionaries and church planters. He argues against a modern office of prophet, contrasting Old Testament prophets—who spoke God’s very words and had tremendous authority—with Christians today who have the gift of prophecy, but do not hold that office and whose words are not authoritative.

Some of the book’s contributors seem to believe that modern apostles and prophets have extraordinary authority. Wagner, for example, does not address the authority of modern apostles and prophets in his chapter, but he does address it in his other books (including some that are recommended in Understanding the Fivefold Ministry). In Churchquake! (Regal Books, 1999), Wagner argues that the authority of the apostles cannot be questioned, even by the pastors or prophets under them. (One may wonder why this controversial teaching—held by many in the movement—is never mentioned in the book.)

Cindy Jacobs (co‐founder of Generals of Intercession, a prayer and spiritual warfare ministry in Colorado Springs, Colorado) argues that prophets have great authority to guide world leaders and nations. She compares modern “prophets,” such as Bill Hamon and Chuck Pierce, to Old Testament prophets, such as Elisha and Daniel (see her chapter in Understanding the Fivefold Ministry, titled “Prophets—A Voice to the Nations”).

Other contributors view modern apostles and prophets in the same lesser sense Grudem describes. Eddie Hyatt (author of 2000 Years of Charismatic Christianity), for example, argues that modern prophets can’t prophesy God’s will, as Old Testament prophets did. In his chapter, titled “Putting Personal Prophecy to the Test,” Hyatt says that there is no example in the New Testament of a prophet being sought for guidance. He states, “In the New Testament, the indwelling Holy Spirit is the right and privilege of every believer, making the mediation of a special prophet unnecessary” (60). The purpose of prophecy today is to confirm and encourage—not to mediate or legislate, Hyatt says, citing 1 Corinthians 14:3.

Hyatt also opposes the idea that God is restoring apostolic government. His Web site features an article (available at http://www.eddiehyatt.com/article01.html) that states, “No such order or government is either delineated or prescribed in the New Testament. The New Testament writers, in fact, show very little concern for church offices and organizational structure.”

What the Book Doesn’t Say. One wonders why the book doesn’t clarify that some of its contributors are defining apostles and prophets in very different ways. Without these distinctions, readers may be misled to think that all the contributors are in agreement. Also, much of the aberrant teachings that contributors promote in the book, ironically, can’t be found in the book itself. They are found, rather, in books that the authors recommend for further study at the ends of the chapters.

For example, three different contributors—Jacobs, Green, and Grady—recommend Bill Hamon’s books, including Apostles, Prophets and the Coming Moves of God (Destiny Image Publishers 1997). This is troubling, since this book, which has a foreword written by Wagner, teaches that Christians need new doctrinal revelation. Hamon says, “He [Paul] also reveals that this anointing for divine revelation was not just given to the prophets of old but has now been equally given to Christ’s Holy Apostles and Prophets in His Church” (Apostles, Prophets and the Coming Moves of God, 140). Extrabiblical revelation in Hamon’s book includes the teaching that modern apostles and prophets are going to become so powerful that Christians who come into their presence with sin will be struck dead.

Dismissing Concerns. Despite the book’s silence on these controversial issues, Doug Beacham (executive director of church education ministries for the International Pentecostal Holiness Church) seems to be aware of them. In his chapter, titled “The Leadershift,” Beacham expresses concerns that modern apostles may use their authority to promote “authoritarianism” and that prophets may attempt to give new doctrinal revelation.

In response to Beacham’s concerns, Wagner agrees that preventing apostles from abusing their authority is a challenge. He reassures readers that the International Coalition of Apostles—a network of over 330 apostles led by Wagner—is addressing the issue.

Wagner’s response, however, is inadequate. Are Christians simply to trust that the International Coalition of Apostles will provide its own oversight? Some of these same “apostles” have already abused their positions by teaching that they have great authority and the ability to give new doctrinal revelation.

Wagner also agrees that Beacham’s concern about new doctrinal revelation is legitimate. Wagner says that, in the past, some “prophets” and “apostles” claimed to give revelation that “superceded” Scripture, such as the Book of Mormon. Wagner assures readers, however, that the apostles he knows “would tremble at the thought that new truth that they receive would in any way violate the integrity and the authority of Scripture” (31).

Wagner’s response, nonetheless, sounds hollow, since he currently promotes “apostles” and “prophets” who proclaim new doctrinal revelation. This includes Hamon, whom Wagner elsewhere calls one of his “closest prophetic colleagues” (Changing Church [Ventura, CA: Regal Books, 2004], 11).

Final Thoughts. Some contributors, such as Haggard, commendably acknowledge abuses among modern “prophets,” such as proclaiming false prophecies and “explain[ing them] away” (35). Contributor R. T. Kendall (former pastor of Westminster Chapel in London) encourages teachers to promote the written Word over prophetic words. Kendall also urges readers to contend for sound doctrine—the faith “once for all” delivered to the saints, which is refreshing in light of the book’s endorsement of those who promote new doctrinal revelation.

Hayford’s endorsement of the book, likely and unfortunately, will cause many Christians to feel safe accepting the aberrant teachings associated with the NAR movement. It is troubling to see Hayford’s credibility used in this way.


Holly Pivec holds an M.A. in Christian apologetics from Biola University and is the managing editor of Biola Connections. She has a blog at spiritoferror.wordpress.com, which examines the apostolic and prophetic movement.

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